Six Stars of the Cubs Farm, 9/18/21: Howard, Espinoza, Franklin, Palencia, Chalmers, Triantos

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Six Stars of the Cubs Farm, 9/18/21: Howard, Espinoza, Franklin, Palencia, Chalmers, Triantos

Chicago Cubs

Yesterday was the final day of the Arizona Complex League season, and today will be the final day of the regular season for Tennessee, South Bend, and Myrtle Beach.

The Cubs will participate in an Instructional League in Arizona this fall, and I believe on-boarding and workouts for that squad will begin next week. I’m anticipating it will mostly be ACL and Low-A players, with some notable rehabbers also expected to make appearances. Instructs were huge for the Cubs last year, it’s where the Ben Leeper breakout began for instance, and I suspect the Cubs development staff is going all-out this year.

Let’s break down the day in the minors for the Cubs …

Honorable Mention: Shall we continue our AB-by-AB breakdown of Brennen Davis’ first week in Triple-A, where he’s currently hitting .450/.522/.950? Yeah, I think so.

First inning against the lefty starter, Davis worked a walk on his seventh pitch. He fell down 1-2, then watched two inside fastballs, fouled off a full-count breaker and then walked on a fastball away. The full-count pitch then went against him in the third inning, when he struck out on a 3-2 changeup, the second whiff against that pitch in the six-pitch AB. In the fifth, Davis ambushed the first pitch he saw, a fastball on the outside corner, hitting a soft liner up the middle. The BABIP gods were friendly to Davis in the seventh when he popped an inner half full-count fastball to short right field, and the Chasers right fielder just missed the ball. A double in the scorebooks. Overall, Davis saw 20 pitches in four at-bats and reached three times. Things are going well.

Six: Ed Howard

The three hits were nice, but the defensive play to end the Pelicans 12-2 victory was nicer.

Howard’s ability to move right, a skill that was also on display while playing second base last week, is just so good. Good instincts, good footwork, he’s always fun to watch out there. And check out this fun with arbitrary endpoints:

Credit to Ed for grinding through the struggles and coming out the other side. I think we know now that asking him to be in Myrtle Beach for that month of May was too much, but I think Howard’s makeup is strong enough that it added fuel and not overwhelming self-doubt. I hope he goes out and grabs a South Bend roster spot during Spring Training 2022 and never looks back.

Five: Luke Little, Bailey Horn, Anderson Espinoza

Three helpful outings from guys that weren’t pitching in the Cubs system two months ago. I imagine Little’s season will continue at Instructs, while Horn will probably get shut down after crossing the 60 inning plateau. I don’t know what the plan is for Espinoza (AFL? Winter ball? A start here in Triple-A?), but I know I’m not ready to not watch this guy pitch for six months. Since June 25: 42 innings, 33 hits, 2.79 ERA, 24 walks, 62 strikeouts. So glad to have this guy in the system, so hopeful that good health moving forward can mean a more he finds himself on a more traditional track in 2022.

Four: Christian Franklin, Yonathan Perlaza, Jonathan Sierra, B.J. Murray

First pro home run for Christian Franklin, capitalizing when a pitcher couldn’t quite get his fastball high enough.

Franklin enters the final day of the season hitting a weird .213/.415/.311, with a twenty-plus percent walk rate doing enough work to make him above league-average offensively. He’s not yet hit enough balls in the air to produce the slugging number that his natural strength suggests he should, but I’m also not judging anything about his game until he gets a winter of swing development and we see how the 2022 results in South Bend bear out.

Quick note on Yonathan Perlaza: he has more home runs since the calendar flipped to August (7) than he had from 2016-2019 (6). Holy cow.

Three: Daniel Palencia

What an encouraging start this was to send Palencia off into the winter, career-best in so many ways. Developmentally, what stood out watching it was two things: Palencia’s curveball was the best I’ve ever seen it, and he showed a ton of self-belief. After a dominant first inning mostly with fastballs and curveballs, Palencia shook off his catcher (Casey Opitz) a bunch of times in the second inning in order to throw changeups and sliders. This was a guy not only feeling it on the mound, but believing in the overall process. It helps, of course, when you know you always have 98+ mph available to you on the next pitch. And the majority of his 17 swings and misses came with that heat.

Final season stats for the 21-year-old Venezuelan: 41.1 IP, 34 H, 4.79 ERA, 24 BB, 52 K. Noteworthy that the ERA was 3.67 with the Cubs, and last night documents some real development that has occurred on the journey from thrower to pitcher. A plus curveball would be huge. I’d like to see the innings pitched double next season as he moves to High-A, and you’d like continued progress in lowering the walk rate. But make no mistake, acquiring this right arm (together with Greg Deichmann in the Andrew Chafin deal) was a really good piece of business by the Cubs front office.

Two: Dakota Chalmers

Hit double digits in the strikeout column for the first time since April 17, 2017. Hit 22 swing-and-miss strikes for the first time in his career. Numbers since the Cubs claimed him on waivers: 57 innings, 47 hits, 5.37 ERA, 35 walks, 63 strikeouts. One of those seasons where the occasional disaster outing provided an extremely harsh regression to the mean after weeks of good starts.

Chalmers is now a minor league free agent, and while I don’t think the Cubs are likely to add him to the 40-man roster, I do suspect they give him a full sales pitch to re-sign. He has a big arm and one of the better curveballs in the organization. Will a team in Asia, with deeper pockets than a minor league deal can offer, be able to make a better argument? Or did the Cubs organization make a big enough impression on Chalmers that he’ll trust them with the next step of his career? It’s something I’ll have my eye on in November.

One: James Triantos

Only 34 times in the last 10 years has an 18-year-old with 100 PA or more in a complex league posted an OPS above .950 (according to a FanGraphs query). With the ACL season now officially complete, I can officially tell you the 2021 ACL Cubs added *three* to that list: Owen Caissie, Kevin Alcantara, and James Triantos.

The second round pick needed an insane final two games to get him there, and insane was what he got, with two home runs in this final one. We talked even before the draft about Triantos as a guy with “controlled violence” in his swing, and you see that so well in the videos from yesterday afternoon. A guy with his contact abilities doesn’t usually swing this hard, and a guy with the ability to create the kind of leverage that he does doesn’t usually post strikeout rates forty percent better than league average (16.5% versus ACL average of 27.5%).

I’ll allow it: you can get excited about this kid.



Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.